tv Maria Hinojosa One-on- One PBS December 10, 2016 4:00pm-4:31pm PST
>> hinojosa: her studies in identity, inequality, and exclusion challenge how we see race in america. princeton professor, author, and political analyst melissa harris-lacewell. i'm maria hinojosa, this is one on one. melissa harris-lacewell, it's so good to have you on the show! >> it is incredibly wonderful to be here. >> hinojosa: so your book, barbershops, bibles, bet, is kind of a very important book in terms of understanding african- american political thought and formation in this country, but you have said that you have moved on from that book. >> ( laughing ) yeah. >> hinojosa: that you love what you did there, but that you kind of have moved to a place where you're looking at things now more from the perspective of an
african-american feminist. so who are audience in... you know, you don't hear a lot of talk on mainstream television about african-american feminism and feminists. >> no. you know, it's so interesting to hear people respond to that first book, 2004. you know, i started that book as a dissertation, right? it was sort of a set of a set of explorations, of ideas-- me trying to figure out a lot of how i thought the world worked in terms of race and politics-- but very much informed not only by my academic scholarship, but by, you know, a particular formulation that came from my life experiences. so you know, i'm the child of a sort of freedom fighting african-american first generation college professor, and in many ways, it was my father's voice, my father's experiences that helped to frame my understanding about what race in america is. now, coming into adulthood and into true adult scholarship and
into thinking of myself as... >> hinojosa: because that was baby scholarship? >> yeah, well, i mean, it was... >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> ...i think it, you know, that early stuff is still... when people claim to be writing objectively, i really believe all professors are always writing books about themselves, if you look carefully enough. so for me, as i started working at the university of chicago-- i spent seven years there as an assistant professor... >> hinojosa: heady place. >> an amazing, intense, exhausting place. but i was very lucky to have these amazing colleagues-- michael dawson and cathy cohen. and particularly cathy cohen who is an african-american woman, she's a lesbian, she's a feminist, and every day, she asked me questions that were much harder than any questions i'd ever been asked before around not just race in politics, but race, gender, sexual identity, class. she and my students and others around me really pushed me to think in different ways, so that... >> hinojosa: so what was one of those questions where you thought you had it all pat, and
then all of a sudden she poses a question to you and you're stumped? what kind of a question? >> so i mean, this is a silly example, but i'd written an introduction that in part included a reference to the cosby show, and saying that "in the 1980s, so many of us who were growing up related to one of the characters in the cosby show." you either thought of yourself as denise or vanessa or rudy. and she says, "you know, melissa, if you're black and queer, you didn't actually relate to any of them." you know, if you're black and lesbian or black and gay, then your experience of the cosby show is still one that marginalized your experience as a black person. i went, "oh, well, yeah; i hadn't really thought about that." in other words, always asking me not only to think about how my personal experience was reflective of broader racial ideas, but how my personal experience was also privileged. how i missed all sorts of other identities by looking through a single sort of racialized
lense. >> hinojosa: but you were... all of your work, at least up until that point, had been kind of looking at the world through this prism of "the other"... >> mm-hmm. >> hinojosa: ...right? even though your mom is white and your dad is african-american, you identify as an african-american woman, but you've always had this kind of prism of looking at things through "the other," and it was almost as if they're saying, "there's a whole other 'otherness' that you need to understand." >> that's right-- secondary marginalization. and so for me, it wasn't that i wasn't a black feminist, it's that i didn't quite know what that meant for my research, and so over those years, as i developed as a teacher and as a researcher, i discovered that for me, black feminism is simply asking the same question over and over again-- of myself and of my students and of my work. and that question is: "what truths are missing here?" so even if you're telling something that's mostly true, there's always some other truth that is missing, some other story that's not being told, some other question that's not being asked.
and so it becomes not just about making sure that women's voices are there or making sure that not only heteronormative but also queer experiences are there-- it's about asking every, single time, "who's story isn't being told? what truth isn't being revealed?" and it's... i find it very challenging, and i'm certainly not up to it all the time, and none of us can write... >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) that's a challenge! >> ...the perfect work, but that's the challenge, yeah. >> hinojosa: so what happens to you as an african-american woman when you see what happened in our country-- we'll get to president obama in a minute-- but michelle. i mean, that notion that michelle obama, at one point, was one of the most disliked african-american women out there... >> mm-hmm. >> hinojosa: ...because apparently, she may have had a moment of questioning herself, her identity, her relationship to the country, and now michelle obama is a star-- a bigger star, even, than barack obama.
( laughing ) what's going... >> well again, i spent seven years in hyde park, so i'm not that surprised to discover that michelle obama might... >> hinojosa: okay, hyde park, south side of chicago where barack obama and his family lived up until they moved to the white house. it's where you lived for seven years. it's where i actually spent, you know, 20 years of my life growing up. >> that's right, that's right. >> hinojosa: strange little place, but hyde park and michelle obama because... >> so michelle obama was working at the university of chicago during my years there. she was a fixture in the neighborhood. barack obama was my state senator. he was my senator. he was my neighbor just around the corner at a condominium complex. you know, i'd see him running at the... actually, he'd lap me running at the lake, because i run very, very slowly. it's much more like a walk with my arms bent. so in many ways, i think those of us who weren't intimate friends of the obamas but were sort of just in the orbit often saw michelle as at least equally the star if not more the star.
she has a kind of graciousness and a bigness of her personality that never... it never overwhelms the people with whom she's in the room, but it's there. you want to be with her. you want to be near her. i always found barack obama slightly more off-putting than michelle. michelle was attractive in a deep way. so the most surprising thing for me was this woman with whom i related so closely as a mother, as a professional woman, as an african-american, that she could be reviled was very painful to me during the election. that new yorker cover that represented her as some sort of outsider; as some sort of american-hating terrorist, even if it was satirical... >> hinojosa: she was carrying a submachine gun, right? >> yes, yes. >> hinojosa: and that's our first lady. >> that's right. she was not... she not yet our first lady, but it was such a bazaar representation, i mean... >> hinojosa: what did you... you know, when you say it was painful for you, tell me what
that looks like. you know, people have this idea, "well, you know, she's a princeton professor, she's an author, she's published," you know? "eh, pain." >> right. ( laughing ) that's right. >> hinojosa: what did that feel like, when... you know, deep inside, what did that feel like? >> well, so i think it's probably best expressed by du bois himself who talks about the notion of "double consciousness"-- to be black and to be american; to have the two warring selves in one dark body. and i think that's almost such a normal part of being black in america. to love your country, to be of your country, to want nothing but the best for your country, and simultaneously to feel rejected by your nation, to feel unrecognized by your nation. that misrecognition of michelle, that fact that people could look at her and see something so dramatically different suggested that who knows what people saw when i walked through the world-- or when my daughter who's seven years old walks through the world? do they also see us as little budding, frightening militants who hate our nation?
it's... it's just a sense of wanting to be seen for who you are and then experiencing the sense that if this woman is not seen, you probably aren't very well recognized, either. >> hinojosa: and that means feeling, essentially, okay, but you know, like unloved... >> yeah. >> hinojosa: ...in your own country. it's deep. >> it is, and it... you know, it's... it doesn't mean that i don't have all of these privileges of being a princeton professor, of you know, owning a home-- and in fact, really no one cares how you feel in a very important way-- but what i do think is critical is the extent to which that sense of double consciousness leads many african- americans, and not just african-americans but many sort of "outsiders within," to feel as though we are on the margins of our own national story. in the context, for example, of hurricane katrina and the aftermath, we know that black and white americans were both very upset about what happened, but white americans primarily saw what happened as a kind of bureaucratic failure-- a failure
of the government to respond. african-americans for the most part saw the failures after hurricane katrina as racialized. they believed that their country had not come for them because they were black. now, whether that's true or not is less important than the fact that you have whole populations of citizens... >> hinojosa: who could actually... who could actually feel that way. >> ...who believed that their country would allow them to starve and die on television simply because of their race. that is the thing that needs healing. and it was difficult to watch that kind of rejection of michelle. >> hinojosa: so now, where michelle is kind of the... you know, we are... and you sometimes write, you say, "you know, when i'm having a bad day, i think about michelle, and boy, it's got to be worse for her!" but i'm thinking about, "well, how's michelle doing today? what is she doing?" you know, i'm really glad she's got a lot of support in that household-- because she does, lucky her; we all wish we did-- but you know, how is she handling it? and i do often think, "it's got to be rough." >> yup.
>> hinojosa: it's got to be rough for her. >> you know, i'll say that... so the acceptance-- the coming to love and find michelle obama as iconic-- in one part helps to heal that anxiety i was talking about, but if we go back to cathy cohen's push, it's also to say, "okay, so the acceptance of michelle obama still ends up marginalizing other folks." so my mother, who's retired and lives in the home with me and helps raise my daughter, loves the obama family mostly because mama robinson is part of the obama family, and she was like, "yes, they have a grammy, too," right? >> hinojosa: who's living with them, yes! >> who's living with them; who's helping. she was like, "i could give her all kinds of advice." that said... and so she goes, "we're just like the obamas." and then i say, "well, mom, no we're not, because i'm a single parent. so we're just like the obamas, but we're not." so there's this way that as wonderful as it is-- this acceptance of the obama girls, this acceptance of michelle-- it still has the impact of marginalizing, for example, the fact that a majority of african-american children are being raised by... in households
like mine, where you may have intergenerational women, but where you don't have a present father. it is still true that, for example, gay and lesbian families don't have the same kind of social recognition. so if you're a michelle obama but you're in a lesbian household, does the acceptance of the kind of heteronormative, you know, traditional picture of the obamas, does that, you know, kind of continue on and lead to a broader acceptance? i don't know. and i'm certainly, you know, a little distressed that at the same time that we have michelle obama, we have precious. >> hinojosa: and you're concerned about it because... i mean, that movie-- i haven't seen the movie, i read the book when it came out a long time ago-- is so incredibly painful. do you... what's the issue there for you? are you uncomfortable with the fact that it's so out there? are you uncomfortable with the fact that the conversations that are happening after the movie... we don't know what those conversations are like? what... >> well, i believe in the relative autonomy of art, so i
think grotesque is fine; i think that over the top is fine; pushing, you know, the edges on a piece of fiction. what does concern me is the sense that there is a kind of... i mean, the mother in that film and in that book is so extraordinarily horrible, and she also represents a sort of remembrance of this 1980s welfare queen who abused the state as well as abusing her children. so her resurgence, her reinterpretation-- although i think mo'nique does an amazing job as an artist performing her-- i do think there's something about sort of america's need to simultaneously have the obamas and to have this grotesque image of a black mother; of a poor, single, abusive black mother sitting next to each other. and it's okay; it's part of the tension... >> hinojosa: but the fact that it's always got to be kind of at the same time. >> i do worry about that. >> hinojosa: you... your next book is called for colored girls who... >> ...who've considered politics
when being strong wasn't enough. >> hinojosa: and you write about the sadness and the loneliness that exists for african-american women in politics. it's a very specific kind of topic. it's not like a lot of people are walking around thinking, "hmm, i wonder how african-american women who get involved in the political system, whether or not they're feeling sad." >> yeah, well again, remember what i said: i think professors are always writing books about themselves. >> hinojosa: so does that mean that you want to run for office? >> oh, gosh, no, although, you know, my partner is in fact running for office, and so i am... >> hinojosa: in the city of new orleans. >> in the city of new orleans he's running for mayor, and so i'm, you know, intimately involved in a campaign in a way that i never have been before. >> hinojosa: but you're also a big critic. you're a big political critic. this is what you do when you're on the cable news shows talking. you are... and i find it very interesting that you're like, "yup, and i'm going to marry a man who's trying to run for mayor in new orleans" of all places! >> ( laughing ) >> hinojosa: that you would kind of believe... i mean, you have a
profound belief in the electoral system, then... >> i do... >> hinojosa: ...in straight party politics, even though you very openly call yourself a person on the left. >> yeah, i'm definitely a lefty, i'm definitely a progressive, but i'm also someone who, when i teach the declaration of independence, i stand up on the table. i stand on the desk because those lines by the slaveholding thomas jefferson, and yet he doesn't write a slaveholding document, right? he writes that it is self evident that all humans are created equal "and endowed by their creator with certain inalianable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." so i believe that our ideals can be bigger than the limitations of who we are practicing our politics. so as much as i am a critic and i will stay a critic-- including of my dear james' administration if he is to win... >> hinojosa: oh, i'm going to see some sparks flying there! >> ( laughing ) but that's... i think that's part of how we love our country. we love it in part by representing, again, this question: "what truths are missing?"
for me, this new book about black womens' emotions in the context of politics is, in part, a book about trying to answer that question. african-american women are often called the "backbone" of the black community, and of course that is important, because they are both in the back, and although sturdy for everyone else, i worry about how black women's political work is too often on behalf of everyone else, not frequently enough on behalf of themselves. >> hinojosa: and so what... what should be the primary struggle of african-american women in politics now? what should it be? >> well, i mean... so again, people have to set their own agenda, but i do wish that we would be equally concerned with the future of our daughters as we are with this particular construct of the endangered black male. a lot of african-american women that i speak to talk about losing black men, the loss of black male patriarchy, and although i'm of course concerned about our sons and about their
future, i also think that in doing that, we miss the victimization and the marginalization of black women. we talk about crime and incarceration as though it's just a black man's problem when black women are the fastest-growing population of newly incarcerated people. we don't talk about hiv/aids, and its impact in particularly young, african-american women's lives. the leading cause of death for african-american women under the age of 35-- hiv/aids infections. so these sorts of blindnesses to the very experiences that women are themselves having at the moment that they're having it-- because they're so engaged in politics on behalf of everyone else-- i think is the problem. we have to be sure we are on our own agenda. >> hinojosa: you have a really fascinating life story, and when you read it, you're almost like, "how did that happen?" so your dad's family can trace their roots back to slavery. >> yes. >> hinojosa: your mom was raised as a mormon...
>> yes. >> hinojosa: ...which is a religion that, up until the year 1979, did not allow any african-american members of that church. so growing up, how does this happen? and actually, is it so strange? i mean, actually, is that kind of stuff happening a lot and we just don't necessarily see it? >> i mean, it's part of what was fun about watching obama run is he kept telling his story, and i was like, "oh, man; you've got nothing on me!" >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> "you should hear my story!" but that's true. my mother's people were mormon pioneers who pushed a handcart across the american west, settled in utah and in the west, and my mother went to brigham young university while my father was contemporaneous with stokely carmichael at howard university. and the two of them met, of course, in graduate school, which is the place where these sorts of things happen. >> hinojosa: oh, for graduate school! >> oh, for graduate school! so and i'm the youngest of five children in an interracial family where some of my siblings have two black parents and some of my siblings have two white
parents. and we grew up in the american south in virginia my parents raised this family, and so... in the context, also, of divorce. so it was quite a challenge, and yet what i'll tell you is that the next generation of kids-- my kids, my sister's kids-- they all know each other and love each other, and they are latino and they are white and they are black, and we spend family vacations together, and we have each and every one of us learned from the other. so my white sister who marries a latino man and has latino children and raises them in california is affected by having had black siblings. and my african-american siblings are impacted by having had an interracial little sister. and those things are part of what, you know, really is our american story. >> hinojosa: well, so is there-- and this term is thrown around a lot, "post racial" america-- so is it ultimately going to happen or take baby steps forward because of the fact that we elected a man who is both
african-american and white, but as a black man? or is it going to happen because of these kind of family relationships, where it's like, well, it's great that obama's there, but really what's going to change is the fact that in so much of the united states a "traditional" notion of what a family is-- whether it's, you know, heterosexual or whether it's a mixed couple-- it's all changing? >> well, i see the election of barack obama as the culmination of racial changes in america, not the inauguration of racial changes in america. our ability to elect him president-- our ability to form a multiracial coalition during an economic downturn that brings in an african-american president-- is because of the struggles and work and change that had occurred over those past 40 years. it was in part because white voters had african-american grandchildren and latino nieces. and i mean, heck, the bush family is more complicated, i think, than we like to tell,
right? >> hinojosa: ( laughing ) >> so in part, it happens because those family formations had already occurred. it's not that by being president, barack changes, you know, where we are in america. so part of it is... are those kinds of, you know, long-term, secular changes. but the other part of it is will. it won't just happen because time passes. we have to decide that we believe racism and racial inequality to be incommensurate with our self-identity asans. and see, for most of our history, racism, imperialism, is not only in line with, it is constitutive of being an american. to be an american is to be a conqueror-- to go west over people who already exist. what we have to do is say, "no, no, no. to be american is to shed that sort of imperialist notion; to shed our understanding of ourselves as enslavers; to embrace a new kind of american conception." and so that is about will, and so it's not just time and the
making new, little, brown babies. >> hinojosa: it's a consciousness. >> it's also about consciousness. >> hinojosa: so what happens in terms of the consciousness of african-americans and latinos as we figure out now as the latino population becomes-- and i really dislike this term-- the "largest minority"... >> ( laughing ) yeah, right! >> hinojosa: ...because that's a term... i don't use that term with my family-- "minority," out the window. what do you see african-americans and latinos? to me this is one of the crucial next relationships that need to be worked out. >> yeah. >> hinojosa: what do you see? >> well, so i see many challenges. you know, one of the challenges that african-american populations will have to realize is that for all of the disadvantages that african-americans have faced and continue to face, we have, also, certain privileges and advantages relative to the electoral political realm. there simply are more black mayors; there simply are more black representatives in the u.s. house; there... depending on how you measure the senate, there have been more black senators, and now there's been a black president.
which means that we will have to not always think of ourselves as the outsiders, but sometimes as the insiders who are controlling the access, and we'll have to necessarily shed out own privileges in ways that we have often asked white americans to do. >> hinojosa: do you think that there is that kind of conscious understanding of "we have privilege and we have to share"? >> oh, no, because i think at this point, the focus group is still always white americans who have just vastly more resources and privileges, that it feels as though what we're doing is simply competing. you know, that there's just one piece of pie for all the blacks and browns, and all the blacks and browns must compete for that piece of pie. and what we have to recognize is, one, that the pie, like love, can grow. it is expansive; we can... >> hinojosa: oh, i love that! "the pie, like love, can grow." ( laughing ) >> ( laughing ) well, it can grow! there's not some sort of limit on what's possible, and so we can... we can, in fact, i think, set a new standard for how political coalitions will form. i think the other thing is to be more relaxed. you know, coalitions need not form up to be perfectly and
always sustainable. we can form momentary coalitions around a particular candidate; we can get together around some political issues and not as others. it is okay to both be competitors and in solidarity. >> hinojosa: but you've got a segment of the population right now that is really, at least in some cases, pointing a picture towards the latino immigrant as the source of all of the problems that we are all facing in this country. and especially if you are a low-skilled african-american worker, this person-- this undocumented, usually mexican or other latino immigrant-- is your enemy. >> i mean, this is... again, my beloved city of new orleans-- in the days following katrina, these questions of work and the capacity particularly for manual labor, for low skilled labor, and for rebuilding the city brought up exactly these anxieties around undocumented workers, and the easiness of
sort of resting on citizenship to say, "well, i'm an american here, i'm black, i'm an american, i've been here, i am a citizen, you are not, and therefore i deserve to be in this public space, and you don't." but to do that is to miss that black citizenship has always been contingent and second class and that precisely those sorts of arguments have been used against african-americans. so it is a two-way street, but again, i'll say the point is to recognize that as full sort of participants in the public sphere, that it is okay to both disagree and to have solidarity. that in a democracy, the point is simply to not always be a loser in a winner take all society. it is okay to lose sometimes and to win sometimes; it's just that it can't be that your identity alone defines you as always a loser in the political realm. >> hinojosa: thank you for sharing all that. melissa harris-lacewell, thank you so much. >> it was great to be here. >> hinojosa: thank you.
- [announcer] funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by the alice kleberg reynolds foundation and hillco partners, a texas government affairs consultancy, and by klru's producers circle, ensuring local programming that reflects the character and interests of the greater austin, texas community. - i'm evan smith. she's an actress whose credits include the hit tv series, orange is the new black and jane the virgin. her memoir, in the country we love: my family divided has just been published. she's diane guerrero. this is overheard. let's be honest, is this about the ability to learn or is this about the experience of not having been taught right? how have you avoided what has befallen other nations in africa? at 17, he made his own bed, but you caused him to sleep in it. we saw a problem and, over time, took it on. let's start with the sizzle before we get to the steak.